First steps to net zero: how you can start your carbon journey | key takeaways:

March 10, 2023

What and when?

Did you know that 9 out of 10 UK small businesses don’t measure their carbon footprint, and don’t know how to get started? In a world where carbon consciousness is becoming increasingly important from an environmental and financial perspective, we wanted to reach out to our clients, candidates and colleagues so that we could shed some light on this often confusing topic. 

On February 22, I hosted an online webinar: ‘‘First steps to net zero: how you can start your carbon journey’’ with Laura McCullough, Heart of the City’s Net Zero Program Manager.

We wanted to share some knowledge about what net zero means for small businesses in the UK, and the best ways to get started with measuring your carbon footprint.

Why now?

At The SR Group, we are passionate about integrating sustainability into the way we do business, which is why we are placing so much focus on our internal ESG strategy. The time to act on climate change is now, given the pressure we are under to limit global warming to just 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, in line with The Paris Agreement. We wanted to empower small businesses to take those scary first steps into the net zero world.

What is the difference between carbon neutral and net zero?

These two terms are often used interchangeably, but they mean very different things.

Carbon neutral describes when a company has measured a portion of their carbon emissions (they get to decide how much, as the scopes for this are not defined) and then through purchasing avoidance offsetting carbon credits, effectively ‘‘balance out’’ their GHG emissions.

Net zero is a term that has more distinct criteria. To achieve net zero, you must measure all scope 1 and 2 emissions (and some scope three that are indispensable to your business), reduce them by 50% by 2030 and 90% by 2050, and then through purchasing carbon removal offsetting credits, offset the remaining balance.

Carbon neutral is relatively easy to achieve provided you are willing to invest money into offsetting. A lot of companies get themselves into hot water by claiming carbon neutrality, but in reality, they aren’t accurately measuring their emissions, which counts as greenwashing. Net zero is a much longer-term plan and will be much harder to achieve. It is not, however, impossible.

The SR Group’s journey

We were invited onto the pilot of The Heart of the City’s Climate Action course in July 2021. Starting from zero, I had no knowledge of how a carbon footprint for a business worked, or how you would go about measuring one. The course was designed for complete newbies to the carbon measuring world, and module one explained all the different terms and ideas that were key to success. Module 3 gave tips for measuring your carbon footprint, which I followed. We eventually came out with our carbon footprint for 2021.

Measuring our carbon footprint was a task that ended up being broken down into four main stages.

Water and electricity

The first step was easy and involved contacting the landlord for water and energy readings. Once we had these it was easy to put our usage into a calculator online.

Employee commuting

The commuting survey was something that we could have done better, and we learned a lot about how to collect this data, which we have implemented for 2022. We put together a survey asking about journey distance, mode of transport, how many days of the week worked in the office. We got a decent number of responses, certainly enough to extrapolate for the whole office and create an average daily footprint. 2021 we had a couple of national lockdowns in the UK so we had to account for that in this section.

Working from home

We collected data on our commuting survey on the percentages of people who worked one, two, or three days in the office, so I used that average percentage with the average number of employees over 2021. For 75% of the year, we were WFH full-time, so for 25% of the year we were on average doing 3 days a week from home. I used the calculator in the Heart of the City’s toolkit for these calculations.

Purchased goods and services

Once again the Heart of the City’s toolkit helped me calculate this. They provided a calculator that uses average emissions factors from DEFRA and you just plug in your supplier spend for everything, software, hardware, paper, milk, and you get your carbon emissions based on an average for goods and services in the UK per pound spent. As you can see, this was the largest section of our footprint, and as we are a professional services company this is quite common.

Business travel and waste

Business travel is, unfortunately, missing from this footprint, as none of it was logged anywhere. We set up a new system whereby the person who books most of the business travel makes a note of all of it, so we have this information for 2022. We also are going to be running a survey to catch all of those journeys that don’t count as commuting but are to and from our offices for those who are fully remote and work in the office maybe once a month or quarter.

What was challenging?

The challenges we faced were very much what any small business would face. Knowledge, time, and data.


We didn’t have a team of sustainability experts on hand to advise us, so we took advantage of the experts who attended all the sessions with Heart of the City to guide us on the best way to measure our footprint. It was a steep learning curve, but I was really interested in it and enjoyed doing the course alongside my other work.


Unlike large firms, we don’t have a dedicated team to work on a carbon footprint all day long. For most SMEs, it will likely be one person working on this, probably alongside their day job. For us, it was just a case of little and often getting the job done. There will likely be someone who is passionate about the environment who will want to do their part to help, like me.


Getting hold of the data proved difficult. It is important to bear in mind that the more you do your carbon footprint, the easier it will get. You will also learn a lot about how to collect the data in the most efficient, effective way. Our 2021 footprint wasn’t perfect, but we learned a lot doing it, and 2022 has already proved easier to measure and calculate.

How you can get started

We left the guests with three key takeaways:

  • Use the Heart of the City’s resources, they are free and of a very high standard. You don’t have to be a sustainability expert to measure your carbon footprint, and the free toolkit will help you understand key terms for anyone looking to get stuck into net zero.
  • Get in touch with your landlord and ask for electricity readings and if you’re on a green tariff. Your landlord is a great person to have on your team as you start your net zero journey, as they can help you implement emissions reductions in the workplace, as well as providing the info you need for your footprint.
  • Set up a green team to help you plan your strategy. It’s much easier to keep yourself accountable if you have regular catch ups to discuss how you’re getting on, and you can divide the task between you to make the workload a bit lighter.

Watch the full webinar.                                                                                                                 


Alice Asson

Bid Manager | The SR Group

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